What Is Cake Flour?

Buying, Baking, and Recipes

Cake flour

Getty Images/Yulia Naumenko

Cake flour is an important ingredient used in baking to make tall and airy cakes, fluffy biscuits, light pastries, and other treats. It's a finely-milled, low-protein flour that contains less gluten than its common counterpart, all-purpose flour. This baking ingredient is pretty easy to find, too, since most grocery stores carry at least one brand of cake flour.

Fast Facts

  • Shelf Life: Around six months
  • Substitutes: All-purpose flour with cornstarch or pastry flour
  • Most Common Way To Use: In cakes, biscuits, pastries, baked sweets 
  • How To Store: Inside a sealed container in a dry, dark space

What is Cake Flour?

Cake flour is a low-protein type of flour with less gluten than regular flour. It's a finely-milled wheat flour that's delicate and perfect for making airy pastries, spongy cakes and fluffy biscuits. This type of flour is also higher in starch, another component that works well with lighter baked goods. Most cake flours are between 5 and 8 percent gluten protein, compared to all-purpose flour, which is between 10 and 13 percent. The more gluten protein, the denser the baked good.

Cake flour hasn't always been available as a product. The ingredient was invented around 1894 by Addison Igleheart, creator of Swans Down Cake Flour. Once released to the market, this cake flour became popular among cooks and even won a prize at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Through the years the Swans Down Cake Flour has changed hands, bought by various companies who kept the name intact. Today the brand is owned by Reily Foods Company out of New Orleans, and is still available on the shelf. 

Cake Flour Vs. All Purpose Flour 

The biggest difference between these two flours is the protein level. Cake flour is made with around 8 percent protein, where all-purpose flour measures at around 11 percent and is known as a "hard flour." Bakers choose cake flour instead of (or in addition to) all-purpose flour when they want to reduce the gluten in a recipe, thereby making lighter baked goods, like tall cakes and airy biscuits and pastries.

Cake Flour Uses 

The main use for cake flour is for making baked goods. It's very similar to pastry flour in that both are lower in gluten proteins, though cake flour has even less than pastry flour. It should never be eaten raw. Instead, use cake flour to make tall and spongy cake, light and airy pastry, and cloud-like dinner rolls.

How to Cook With Cake Flour

Also called super fine flour and extra fine flour, cake flour is milled into a lighter powder, which helps it absorb water better. This leads to baked goods with a fine crumb and soft texture. Cake flour also allows for cakes and other foods to rise taller and for the fats, such as butter or vegetable oil, to become more evenly dispersed. 

Use cake flour just like any other flour by softly mixing it in with other ingredients until just combined. Make sure not to over stir the flour, it can make the end product tougher than desired. When done combining the ingredients, bake it like any other dish.

Cake flour

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Cake flour

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Cake flour

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Cake flour

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Cake flour

Getty Images/Yulia Naumenko

What Does It Taste Like? 

Though cake flour sounds like it might taste like cake, it doesn't at all. There's no sweetness; it's just a starchy powder, and it doesn't taste good on its own. In fact, it's strongly recommended that we don't consume raw flour because there's a risk that it may be contaminated with bacteria.

Cake Flour Substitute 

If there's no cake flour on hand, don't worry; it's easy to substitute. Simply take one cup of all-purpose flour, minus two tablespoons. Replace those missing two tablespoons with two tablespoons of cornstarch. Mix and use in lieu of one cup of cake flour. Pastry flour can also be used to as a substitute on a one-to-one basis since its gluten proteins are just a little higher than those found in cake flour.

Cake Flour Recipes

Cake flour is used in all sorts of baked goods, from fluffy rolls to cakes to pastry. 

Where To Buy Cake Flour

Finding cake flour in the baking section of most grocery stores is easy. It's often available in both big-box stores, independent grocery stores, and small markets. If you don't have cake flour, you can substitute with pastry or all-purpose flour, though the latter needs the addition of corn starch.


Keep cake flour in a sealed container in a dark, dry place. It's best to use up by six months since fresher flour works better in baking. Also, keeping cake flour too long can lead to pest infestations and bacteria growth in the fine powder. 

READ NEXT: How to Make Cake Flour With All-Purpose Flour